There’s plenty of Welsh interest in the World Half Marathon Championships this weekend, though some of the faces might not have been the ones anyone was expecting. Clara Evans has hit the front with a late burst as she tells Owen Morgan.
Clara Evans started the year targeting a place in the half marathon at the European Athletics Championships.
On Saturday, she will line up at the rearranged World Half Marathon Championships in Poland alongside fellow Welsh international Kris Jones and Cardiff Athletics teammate Jake Smith.
It’s quite an upgrade during a year where many have been forced to scale back their ambitions.
Evans had originally set her sights on the European Championships, which was to be held in Paris during the summer.
But with that event having been cancelled completely and the World Championships moved from March to this weekend, an opportunity presented itself, especially after Evans ran a half marathon personal best in Northern Ireland last month.
As she prepared to win her first Great Britain senior vest in Gdynia, Evans told Dai Sport: “The Europeans was on initially and the World Half was postponed, but then we didn’t really know whether it was going to go ahead or not.
“I wasn’t really thinking about trying to make the team or anything else, I just carried on training in lockdown and then I managed to get a half marathon in Northern Ireland.
“I saw that they had re-released the selection policy (for the World Half Marathon Championships) so I thought I’d put my name forward because I’d just run the PB in Northern Ireland – just to see what happened.”
But there was another twist of fate before Evans received her first Great Britain call up.
Friend and training partner Charlotte Arter was originally selected for this weekend’s event, but was forced to withdraw through injury and replaced by her Cardiff club mate Evans.
“It was obviously really sad that Charlotte had to pull out,” said Evans. “It was tough because I was taking her place. I was happy, but because she’s my friend and my training partner I was sad for her as well.
“I think she was really excited for me though, so I think it made things slightly easier for her that it was me replacing her and I was getting my first vest.”
A first Great Britain vest is a dream come true for the modest Evans – although she may not always have advertised her desire to gain one.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. It’s always something you dream and wish will happen.
“But I didn’t want to be like ‘I really want one, I really want one’ . . . even though I really did!
🇬🇧 In a change to the British team for the @WorldAthletics Half Marathon Championships, @ClaraEvans4 will make her British debut as @charlottearter has unfortunately withdrawn through injury. https://t.co/av4IvHdo4H
— British Athletics (@BritAthletics) September 28, 2020
“I used to say’ if it happens, it happens’, but when I got the call I was really excited.”
Now that her first GB appearance is within grasp, Evans wants to make the most of the opportunity and is hoping to better the PB of 72:21she clocked in Antrim.
“I’m in some of the best shape I’ve ever been,” she said. “I did a session on Friday and I did the fastest times I’ve ever done in that session . . . a session I have done loads of times before. So I think I’m in good shape from that! Hopefully it pays off in the race.
“I’d love to get a PB in my first GB vest. I don’t think you can ask for much more. I’m just going to go out there and run the race how I would normally run and hopefully I will manage to get a PB.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure of the course yet, because I haven’t looked at it. But when we get out there we’ll check out the course and I will have a better idea.
“Hopefully, it will be a fast course and there will be some fast runners in the race so I can just get dragged along!”
Evans will certainly get her wish for some fast runners in the race. The women’s event features a classic Ethiopia versus Kenya battle.
— @welshathletics (@WelshAthletics) October 15, 2020
For Ethiopia there will be world record holder Ababel Yeshaneh and reigning World Half champion Netsanet Gudeta.
While Kenya will be represented by former world record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei and 2016 World Half champ Peres Jepchirchir, fresh from a 65:34 women’s-only world record in Prague last month.
This may be Evans’ first senior GB vest, but for Swansea Harrier Jones an appearance at the World Half Marathon Championships provides the opportunity to add another to his impressive collection of national vests across a number of disciplines.
The Welshman, who is currently based in Scotland where he competes for Dundee Hawkhill, comes from a strong orienteering and cross country background.
Jones has donned the GB vest at the World Orienteering Championships in Latvia and the European Orienteering Championships in Switzerland, where he won a bronze in the sprint event. He has also represented GB at the last two SPAR European Cross Country Championships.
“I’ve also done the track,” said Jones. “I did a European 10,000m Cup, it went awfully but I did it!”
“Coming from orienteering, you can be quite versatile because each race is different.
“It means that I know where I am in the scale of things. I’m a very good runner but I’m no Mo Farah, or that level.
“But I think versatility is great and I’ll keep trying to stack up all the different vests I think!”
Jones joked in a recent tweet that he was in competition with World Half Marathon team-mate and ultra runner Tom Evans to see who could represent Britain over the most disciplines.
“It’s a bit of a joke with the tweet because all of my vests have come over the shorter distances, this is the longest I have done at just over an hour, whereas Tom is getting up to ultra races and all of that. That’s just the type of runner I am, it’s the cross country and orienteering that gives you that kind of background.”
As well as chalking up another discipline for GB, Jones is just delighted to be able to race again following the disruption of lockdown and the re-occurrence of an Achilles injury.
At the turn of the year, he was in excellent form having won the Glynneath 5 on Boxing Day and the Nos Galan 5K before winning the Run Stirling British Athletics Cross Challenge in January.
The following month he clocked a new personal best of 63:09 at the Barcelona Half Marathon.
Excited to get the opportunity to race the World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia in three weeks time. I’m competing with @TomEvansUltra to see who can represent 🇬🇧 over the most disciplines 🤣 Orienteering ✅ Track ✅ Cross-Country ✅ Road 🔜https://t.co/Xl1Irmefqm
— Kris Jones (@Thekrisjones) September 25, 2020
But as the COVID-19 pandemic started to escalate and lockdown was introduced an old Achilles problem reared its head
Jones said: “I was in really good shape. But I think the end of March was the period it all changed, each week would bring different restrictions so it was quite difficult to train in that environment.
“You live on consistency and I just did a bit too much, pushed a bit too much and the Achilles reappeared.”
But now he is fit, healthy and excited to see what kind of form he is in.
“To be honest, it’s difficult to know when you haven’t raced. But I’m feeling good and I’m just looking forward to going out there and seeing what I can do.
“I’m never going to be the one who turns around and says ‘oh I’m flying and I’m going to run really well’! I’ll go out and give it my best. But I am fit and I’m in good shape.
“I’m excited to see what I can do. I don’t have too many markers to judge against, so it’s just ‘go out there and do what I can do’.
“Getting back on the field, as it were, is the most exciting thing. I ran a 10k in the middle of September and it was just great to put on your racing shoes and just get back to it.
“It’s one of those years when you haven’t had much opportunity to do anything, so it’s great to have a race on the schedule as much as anything.”
Despite his experience at such a variety of championships and disciplines, Jones says the trip to Poland will be something of a step into the unknown.
“I think it will be so different to anything else,” says Jones. ” think it will be a lot of waiting around more than anything because once you are in the bubble you can’t leave.
“I’ve already had a COVID test, which I’m waiting for the results for and then I’ll have another when I arrive before I can check into the hotel. Once we are in the hotel we are in a bubble and everyone we come into contact with should have had the same testing.
“Basically, if we are not running, eating dinner, or in our rooms, we are wearing masks. I guess it’s similar to what they did in London in terms of it’s just going to be a few days of isolation before the race.
“It’s going to be a weird experience I think, but because this year there hasn’t been anything happening, you’re more than happy with a few days sitting in a hotel room just to get a race.”
Like the women’s event, the men’s race is stacked with talent, including Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, who after breaking world records at 5,000 and 10,000 meters will make his half marathon debut and attempt to become just the second man to win global titles on the track, road, and in cross country.
Course details, scoring and prize money!
Everything you need to know ahead of the #WorldHalfMarathon👇
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) October 13, 2020
Both Jones and Evans are hoping that getting back to action on Saturday will also help towards their respective goals of representing Wales at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Jones said: “I guess the Commonwealths are on my mind and I guess next year should be the important year for that because it will be the year when you get to set times and qualifying performances.
“I think the Commonwealths, even though this will be a World Championships, the Commonwealths will be a step above that. That will be the main aim for next year, probably staying on the track, 10k maybe.
“It would be bold of me to say I would step up to the marathon when you look at the strength of Welsh marathon running at the minute. That is going to be a tough team to make.
“It’s fantastic. It was great to see Josh and Charlie run really well in London. I think I could run faster over 10k anyway. It’s good to have the opinion that you get as much out of it as you can over the shorter distances before you move up. So that is what I will try.”
Evans agrees Welsh distance running is in rude health.
“There is a strong group of men and women who are knocking on the door of the Commonwealth Games and the people just below us are pushing all the way. We can’t rest on our laurels or anything. It’s just so strong at the moment.
“One person runs a PB and then you think ‘well I can do that’ and then the next person is pushing to do a PB. Everyone’s really friendly in Wales, everyone’s really happy for everyone, encouraging them.
“We’re quite a small country and we all know each other so it’s really going places and we can mix it with England even though they are so much bigger than us. We can hold our own against them now in middle to long distance running.”
There will be a further Welsh connection in Poland in the shape of Evans’ Cardiff team mate Smith.
The Cardiff Metropolitan University student has been in devastating form over the half marathon distance since he ran a massive PB at the 2018 Cardiff Half Marathon which doubled as the Commonwealth Half Marathon.
The following year he set a new British Under-23 half marathon record of 62.02 in France.
Before the COVID-19 crisis struck, Smith chipped another two seconds off his record when he finished third at the Big Half in London on St David’s Day.
Loved last years event👍 plus set @JakeSmith_run of @Met_athletics up for a brilliant year which continues with the @WorldAthletics half marathon championship on Saturday for @BritAthletics 🙌 #StopJake⛔ #WorldHalfMarathon https://t.co/kdg6vysv7r pic.twitter.com/YHqgqvii9C
— James Thie (@TeamThie) October 15, 2020
That performance earned him an automatic place in the original GB squad for the World Half Marathon Championships.
Since then, he has displayed his current form by running a 28:00.05 10,000m time trial on the new King George V track in Tonypandy.
Bermuda-born Smith, who has spoken of the possibility of running for Wales in future, was paced by “Llanishen Street Distance Project” housemates James Heneghan, John Howorth and Ciaran Lewis.
Speaking after that performance, Smith said: “I’m just going to try and create as best I can a perfect training block for the World Half. At the World Half I would love to run 61 minutes low. It’s the best competition to run something quick at.”
The full Great Britain team for Saturday is:
Mohamud Aadan (Paul Oppe; Thames Valley)
Adam Craig (Steve Vernon; Inverclyde)
Tom Evans (Andrew Hobdell; Belgrave)
Kristian Jones (Swansea Harriers and Dundee Hawkhill)
Jake Smith (James Thie; Cardiff)
Becky Briggs (Mick Woods; City of Hull)
Clara Evans (Chris Jones; Cardiff)
Samantha Harrison (Vince Wilson; Notts)
You can watch the World Half Marathon Championships on the BBC Red Button from 9:50am on Saturday morning.